Mea Culpa: only not so lonely

John Rentoul
We wrote, ‘one of the only’ places you can get flotation therapy, meaning one of several: Rick Nadal

We sometimes use the phrase “one of the only”, and a reader has written to point out that this makes no sense. Maybe I am becoming more indulgent with the passing of time, but I think that is needlessly pedantic.

In a review of winter holidays this week, we said that, when it opens, “Float in the Forest will be one of the only places in the country where you can take part in flotation therapy before emerging into picturesque woodland – rather than a busy high street”. I was more alarmed by the idea of flotation therapy than by “one of the only”.

I think the meaning is clear. It means “one of the few”, but the “only” gives it emphasis. Strictly, you might say “one of only two” or “one of only five”, but no one needs to know precisely how many places there are where you can do flotation therapy in picturesque woodland.

The same goes for a report on the decriminalisation of domestic violence in Russia, in which we said: “Russia is one of the only major countries in the world not to have dedicated laws for domestic violence.”

Those were “two of the only” instances I could find in The Independent this week.

RAS syndrome: A picture caption this week said: “The HMS Prince of Wales: sunk by the Japanese, killing 840 UK soldiers.” The trouble with initials is that they become so familiar that people forget what they stand for. Hence what my friend Simmy Richman used to call RAS syndrome (redundant acronym syndrome syndrome), such as “PIN number” (personal identification number number) or “Please RSVP” (please reply please).

HMS stands for Her Majesty’s Ship, or in this case His Majesty’s Ship, as the Prince of Wales was sunk in 1941. So the caption said: “The His Majesty’s Ship Prince of Wales…” Thank you to David Hatcher for pointing out that there is no need for the “The”.

Ghost word: In an article about Labour’s policy on leaving the EU, we wrote: “The lynchpin of Labour’s Brexit policy ... is to go back to Brussels, be nice, and get a better deal.” This spelling of linchpin is so common that it will soon be accepted as the conventional one, although the original is still well ahead if you search the online database of Google Books.

A linchpin is the pin that holds the wheel on the axle of a cart. If it breaks and falls out, the wheel will fall off. As a specialised term of nearly obsolete technology, its only use in normal English is metaphorical, and so its spelling has become confused with a newer word in common use, “lynch”. This comes from Captain William Lynch, the head of a self-appointed tribunal in Virginia in about 1780.

It doesn’t matter much, but it’s interesting to know.